Every Tuesday, Beyond Boulders runs a five-question interview with either a current Schweitzer Fellow or a Schweitzer Fellow for Life (ie, a Fellow whose initial year with ASF has been completed, but whose commitment to lifelong service continues).
Why did you develop your particular project?
This project was a partnership with another Schweitzer Fellow, Liz Daly. I had a desire to become active in the community since I grew up in Philly and had been reading heavily about the state of healthcare in the city and nation as a whole. We met with a doctor we were both close to, who told us about a clinic — St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center — where she volunteered once a week.
Speaking with her, we were struck by the potential to have an impact on patients who were having difficulty managing their chronic condition diagnosis. Liz had worked on something similar prior to medical school, but focused on CHF [congestive heart failure] in the DC area. We discussed expanding that project to include the conditions most commonly faced by the population we were assessing — diabetes and hypertension — and the project was born.
What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
From the beginning, we looked at the potential sustainability of the project. The great, nervously-smiling hope is that we can create a sustainable student volunteer opportunity, pairing second-year medical students up with one or two patients so that both the patients and the students benefit. The patients get dedicated, knowledgeable counselors, while the students get a front row seat to the difficulties of managing chronic disease and lifestyle change.
At the very least, we are tightening the partnership between Jefferson and the Project HOME community, and have done our best to positively impact the lives of our patients. There have already been signs that the education we gave them is making its way into their community.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
Ah, a quick and easy question, eh? To me, the most distressing health-related issue in America is that of disparity. We insist on pretending that healthcare is a limitless resource, throwing tests and prescriptions based on the problem in front of us. The truth is that healthcare, like all resources, does have a limit. Our blindness to this fact results in healthcare decisions being made on a financial and temporal basis — who [health care professionals] have time to see, and who can afford the care, determines who gets the services offered.
While I don’t personally claim to be wise enough to create guidelines that would solve this problem, I doubt strongly that a group of educated and motivated individuals couldn’t come up with something more moral than the current system.
What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow?
Probably the intensity of focus from some of the patients. It is as if once they realize that there is someone else who cares whether they take care of themselves or not, they start to realize that they are worth the effort. It’s almost sad in its implications about the low level of interpersonal connections that must exist.
What does Albert Schweitzer’s legacy mean to you, and how will you carry it with you after your year as a Fellow draws to a close?
He very clearly saw the world as being larger than simply the people within eyeshot. In a time when people were not raising the flags of global interdependence he recognized something morally wrong and simply went to do what he could to change it. I hope that I carry that ability to see broadly and work with great motivation as I move forward.
ASF’s Greater Philadelphia Area program was founded in 2006. Under the leadership of David B. Nash, MD, MBA and colleagues at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, the Greater Philadelphia Schweitzer Fellows Program serves populations in Delaware, Southeastern Pennsylvania, and Southern New Jersey. This year, 14 new Fellows from the area’s top colleges and universities have been selected to join the program’s ranks, each partnering with a local agency and devoting more than 200 hours of service—click here for details on the new Fellows’ projects.